E320

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)

  • Our verdict: 4 - we recommend avoiding
  • Origin: It is produced synthetically and does not come from natural sources.

E320, also known as Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), is a synthetic antioxidant used widely in the food industry. It is a waxy solid with a faint characteristic odour. BHA helps prevent the oxidation of fats and oils in foods, thereby extending their shelf life. It is chemically known as 3‑tert‑butyl‑4‑hydroxyanisole and 2‑tert‑butyl‑4‑hydroxyanisole. As an antioxidant, BHA stabilizes free radicals, preventing the oxidative rancidity of food products.

Origin

Butylated Hydroxyanisole is of artificial origin. It is synthesized through a chemical reaction involving the alkylation of 4‑methoxyphenol with isobutylene. This process results in the mixture of isomers that constitute BHA. Its production is purely synthetic, and it is not derived from natural sources.

Characteristics

BHA is used in the food industry due to several key characteristics:

  • Antioxidant Properties: Prevents oxidation of fats and oils.
  • Shelf Life Extension: Prolongs the freshness and edibility of food products.
  • Stability: Remains stable under high temperatures, making it suitable for baked and fried products.
  • Synergistic Effect: Often used in combination with other antioxidants for enhanced efficacy.

Uses in Ultra‑Processed Foods

BHA is extensively used in ultra‑processed foods for various reasons:

  • Preservation of Fats and Oils: It prevents the rancidity of fats and oils in products like margarine, shortening, and snacks, ensuring they remain palatable and safe to consume over extended periods.
  • Flavour Protection: By inhibiting oxidative degradation, BHA helps maintain the original flavour profile of processed foods, particularly those containing essential oils and spices.
  • Stability in High‑Temperature Processing: BHA's ability to withstand high temperatures makes it ideal for use in products subjected to baking, frying, and other heat‑intensive processes.
  • Packaging Materials: It is also incorporated into the packaging materials to protect the food from oxidation during storage.
  • Cosmetics and Pharmaceuticals: Besides food, BHA is used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to prevent oxidation of active ingredients, thereby maintaining product efficacy and shelf life.

Health Considerations

While BHA is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, some health considerations and potential risks have been identified:

  • Carcinogenicity Concerns: Animal studies have shown that high doses of BHA can cause cancer in rodents. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies BHA as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) due to these findings.
  • Hormonal Disruption: There is evidence suggesting that BHA can act as an endocrine disruptor, potentially affecting hormonal balance and function.
  • Allergic Reactions: In sensitive individuals, BHA can trigger allergic reactions, including skin rashes and other dermatological issues.
  • Gastrointestinal Distress: Some people may experience nausea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal disturbances following the consumption of foods containing BHA.
  • Bioaccumulation: Concerns about BHA's potential to accumulate in human tissues and its long‑term effects are still under investigation.

References

  1. EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS). (2011). Scientific Opinion on the re‑evaluation of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) (E 320) as a food additive. EFSA Journal, 9(10), 2392.
  2. National Toxicology Program (NTP). (2005). NTP report on carcinogens (12th ed.): Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  3. FDA. (2020). Food Additive Status List. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/food/food‑additives‑petitions/food‑additive‑status‑list
  4. Scientific Committee on Food (SCF). (2002). Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on Butylated Hydroxyanisole. European Commission. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/food/system/files/2020‑12/sci‑com_scf_out134_en.pdf
  5. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). (2022). Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA). In LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug‑Induced Liver Injury. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK590883/